Republicans and Democrats alike Thursday attacked Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard for meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad during a secret trip to Damascus last week.
"An elected official, a representative of the United States, went on a secret trip to meet with the brutal dictator who had murdered nearly half a million of his own people," Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois told The Hill. "It's reprehensible and cannot be justified.
"The actions of Congresswoman Gabbard have put our nation's reputation and foreign policy concerns at high risk and I couldn't be more disgusted."
Gabbard, 35, a Democrat in her second term, met with Assad during a four-day secret "fact-finding" trip last week.
She is a member of the House Armed Services Committee who served in the Army during the Iraq War.
In justifying her meeting with Assad, Gabbard told CNN on Wednesday that "the fact is that he is the president of Syria."
"In order for any peace agreement, in order for any possibility of a viable piece agreement to occur, there has to be a conversation with him."
Kinzinger also served in Iraq with the Air Force.
Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also slammed the meeting, though a statement did not single out Gabbard.
"Mr. Engel's position on Assad is well established: he's a war criminal and a murderer, he has supported and benefitted from terrorism, he has close ties to Russia, and he cannot have a role in Syria's future," spokesman Tim Mulvey told the Hill.
The panel's chairman, Rep. Ed Royce, a California Republican, also attacked his colleague's Mideast visit.
"Assad has exterminated hundreds of thousands of Syrians," a committee spokesman told the Hill. "This trip was not authorized by the committee, and it was just wrong."
But the committee's No. 2 Democrat, Rep. Brad Sherman, also of California, contended that legislators had the right to examine foreign-policy issues they vote on, though they could end up meeting with individuals who do not support U.S. interests.
"Congress has an equal role in the conduct of American foreign policy even if Congress doesn't negotiate directly on behalf of the United States," Sherman told the Hill.
"Sometimes we have to hear from and meet with leaders that are detestable," he continued.
"I have my disagreements with Tulsi on Syria policy, but knowing Tulsi, I am confident she comported herself admirably on this trip."
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